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Tunisians have sent a message to the Arab world, warning leaders they are no longer immune to popular anger.

In cities across the Arab world, people have been reinvigorated by the Tunisian uprising.

The Tunisian uprising, which succeeded in toppling Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the Tunisian president, has brought down the walls of fear, erected by repression and marginalisation, thus restoring the Arab peoples' faith in their ability to demand social justice and end tyranny.

It is a warning to all leaders, whether supported by international or regional powers, that they are no longer immune to popular outcries of fury.

It is true that Ben Ali's flight from the country is just the beginning of an arduous path towards freedom. It is equally true that the achievements of the Tunisian people could still be contained or confiscated by the country's ruling elite, which is desperately clinging to power.

But the Tunisian intifada has placed the Arab world at a crossroads. If it fully succeeds in bringing real change to Tunis it will push the door wide open to freedom in Arab word. If it suffers a setback we shall witness unprecedented repression by rulers struggling to maintain their absolute grip on power.

Either way, a system that combined a starkly unequal distribution of wealth with the denial of freedoms has collapsed.

A model of tyranny

Tunis may have been an extreme example, but all Arab regimes are variations on the same model, which obediently follows Western-instructed economic 'liberalisation' while strangling human rights and civil liberties.

The West has long admired the Tunisian system, praising its "secularism" and "liberal economic policies", and, in its quest to open world markets and maximise profit, has turned a blind eye to human rights violations and the gagging of the media - two functions at which the Ben Ali regime excelled.

But Tunis, under Ben Ali, was not a model of secularism but a shameless model of tyranny. It turned "secularism" into an ideology of terror - not merely in the name of countering Islamic extremism but in an attempt to crush the spirit of opposition - Islamic, secular, liberal and socialist alike.

As with previous examples of countries it deemed to have embraced 'successful economic models', like Chile under the late dictator Augusto Pinochet, the West, particularly the US and France, backed the Ben Ali regime - prioritising forced stability over democracy.

But even when such governments remain in power for decades, thanks to Western support and a security apparatus that suppresses the people with immunity, it is only a matter of time before they come to a humiliating end.

The West, and the US in particular, has always abandoned its allies - a memorable example is the way in which Washington dropped Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late shah of Iran, when popular anger threatened the country's stability.

The Arabs are listening

The people of Tunisia have spoken and, most significantly, the Arab people are listening.

The Tunisian protests have already triggered peaceful demonstrations in Jordan, where people have protested over inflation and government efforts to undermine political liberties and press freedoms and have demanded the departure of Samir al-Rifai, the prime minister.

The government, seemingly concerned by the unfolding developments, sought to appease popular discontent by reversing what had been the ninth increase in fuel prices since 1989. But it was too little, too late, particularly as food prices continue to rise, and Jordanians are expected to continue their demonstrations over the coming weeks.

The government would do well to learn from Tunis that repression by the security forces can no longer solve its problems and guarantee the consent of its citizens.

In Egypt, the opposition Movement for Change appears to have been reinvigorated by the events in Tunisia. And in Arab capitals, from Sana'a to Cairo, the people are sending a message to their own governments, as well as expressing their support for the Tunisian people, by organising sit-ins in front of Tunisian embassies.

Arabs of all generations are also expressing their sentiments online - not only congratulating Tunisians but also calling for similar movements in their own countries. And on Facebook, many have replaced their profile pictures with images of the Tunisian flag, as though draping themselves in the colours of an Arab revolution.

Fear and jubilation

The failure of one of the Arab world's most repressive security forces to quell people power has been met with jubilation. Bloggers have compared the event to the fall of the Berlin wall, suggesting that it will usher in a new era in which the Arab people will have a greater say in determining their future.

Mohamed Bouazizi, the young Tunisian who set himself on fire in protest against unemployment and poverty, has become a symbol of Tunisian sacrifices for freedom.

Activists across the region have called for the "Tunisation" of the Arab street - taking Tunis as a model for the assertion of people power and aspirations for social justice, the eradication of corruption and democratisation.

But the celebratory atmosphere dominating the blogosphere and wide sectors of Arab society is tainted by a prevailing sense of caution and fear: Caution because the situation in Tunis remains unclear and fear that there may be a coup d'état, which would impose security but stifle popular aspirations.

Whether the Tunisian uprising will succeed in bringing about radical reforms or be partially aborted by the ruling elite remains to be seen. But it has already empowered people across the Arab world to expose the fallacy of regimes that believe adopting a pro-Western agenda will enable them to fool their people and guarantee their longevity.

History has shown that security forces can silence people but can never crush the simmering revolt that lies beneath the ashes. Or in the words of the beloved Tunisian poet Abul-Qasim al-Shabi in his poem To the Tyrants of the World:

Wait, don't let the spring, the clearness of the sky and the shine of the morning light fool you ...
Because the darkness, the thunder's rumble and the blowing of the wind are coming toward you
from the horizon
Beware because there is a fire underneath the ash

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.


How one young Tunisian is emerging as a symbol of disenfranchised and impoverished Arab youth.

Mohammed Bouazizi's attempted self-immolation set off protests by Tunisians  

Mohamed Bou'aziz, the young Tunisian who set fire to himself on December 17, is emerging as a symbol of the wider plight of the millions of young Arabs who are struggling to improve their living conditions.

Like many across the Arab world, Bou'aziz, who is now being treated for severe burns, discovered that a university degree was insufficient to secure decent employment. He turned to selling fruit for a living, but when the security forces confiscated his vending cart he torched himself - igniting a series of protests across Tunisia.

The roots of this Tunisian 'uprising' are to be found in a lethal combination of poverty, unemployment and political repression: three characteristics of most Arab societies.

Corruption, nepotism and inefficiency

Official figures place unemployment in the Arab world at 15 per cent but many economists believe the real rate is far higher than government supplied statistics suggest.

A joint study by the Arab League and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) indicates that in most Arab countries young people constitute 50 per cent of the unemployed - the highest rate in the world.

According to the same report, rates of poverty remain high - "reaching up to 40 per cent on average, which means that nearly 140 million Arabs continue to live under the upper poverty line". Worse still, the study noted that the region has seen no decrease in rates of poverty in the past 20 years.

The report was submitted to the Arab summit that convened in Kuwait in 2009, but found no real response from Arab officials - who continued to pursue economic policies that had, in their main outlines, been imposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF).

In most Arab countries, rampant corruption, nepotism and inefficiency have further aggravated the impact of IMF-inspired privatisation processes, austerity measures and the reduction or scrapping of government subsidies on fuel and staple foodstuffs.

Bread and couscous

It was, in fact, Tunisians who first rejected the then newly introduced IMF guidelines by protesting against resulting food shortages in January 1984. But the government of Habib Bourguiba, the then Tunisian president, cracked down on the bread riots, as they were called, and imposed nightly curfews to curb the protests.

But the Tunisian protests did not stop other governments from following suit and endorsing the 'economic liberalisation programme' dictated by the IMF and World Bank. In October 1988, violent protests swept Algeria as liberalisation policies were introduced. The 'couscous protests', as they became known, were led by young people who emulated the ongoing Palestinian intifada against Israeli occupation by donning the Palestinian keffeya, burning tires and throwing stones at security forces.

The subsequent security crackdown resulted in the deaths of hundreds and the imprisonment of more than 1,000 people - serving to silence critics and pave the way for more governments to adopt IMF proposed austerity measures.

Less than a year later, Jordan reached an agreement with the IMF that involved decreasing government subsidies. This triggered hikes in fuel prices and resulted in protests in the southern cities of Ma'an and Karak. The government, like those of other Arab countries, responded by sending in the security forces to round up activists and protest leaders.

But the outcry, having shaken the bedrock of Hashemite support in the south of the country, prompted the late King Hussein to restore elections, lift three-decades old martial law and allow the existence of political parties in order to appease the opposition and to contain the growing anger.

The king's response was a success - particularly as parliamentary elections were held and political prisoners released. His subsequent refusal to join US-led coalition forces in the battle to free Kuwait and in the bombing of Iraq, a stance that corresponded with popular sentiment, also helped to ease the tensions that had arisen from his economic policies. Thus consecutive governments continued to 'liberalise the economy' - resulting in higher inflation rates and price hikes.

A prelude to political liberalism?

The US administrations of both George Bush senior, a Republican, and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, asserted pressure on Arab governments to pursue the 'neo-liberal economic model' promoted by American economist Milton Friedman.

Neo-liberalism marked a sharp retreat from the Keynesian model of government intervention through welfare policies to ensure some degree of social equilibrium within capitalist societies. With the collapse of the former Communist bloc, the promoters of neo-liberal economics sought to associate a free economy with a more politically free society.

During the 1990s, neo-liberal economics became more entrenched in Arab societies - producing a new elite of wealthy young capitalist entrepreneurs and prompting envy and discontent among the established elite who too rushed to join the new game.

Even many former leftist intellectuals, in the Arab world and beyond, espoused the new school of thought as a prelude to a politically liberal society - thus dampening opposition to economic policies that were increasing poverty and unemployment.

But political freedoms did not go hand-in-hand with economic liberalisation. In fact, in most Arab countries the governments asserted more control, while taking measures to undercut dissent and opposition.

In 1996, protests again erupted in the south of Jordan in response to increases in bread prices. The government responded with a security crackdown - but this time no widening political freedoms followed.

Crying out against injustice

It was not until the global economic crisis that the Arab world started to witness the recovery of popular opposition - first materialising in Egypt in 2007 and 2008. These strikes and protests were the first indications of a return to organised protests against political repression and poverty inducing economic policies.

These movements, ultimately unsuccessfully, brought students and workers together to challenge the apathy and disdain of the ruling elite to the suffering of the poor and marginalised. The political movement for change, led by Mohamed ElBaradei, to establish a democratic and participatory political system, reflected the merger of the discontented sectors of Egyptian society.

But it was Bou'aziz's heart-wrenching attempt to kill himself that most accurately represented the loud cry of the millions of impoverished and aching citizens against the yoke of politically and economically repressive systems. His act was one of extreme despair. But he is not alone. Lahseen Naji, another young Tunisian, followed - electrocuting himself to death - and at least five others attempted to commit suicide but were stopped.

In Jordan and some other Arab countries, frustration borne out of political and economic disenfranchisement has manifested itself in a higher rate of societal violence, especially among the young. The absence of strong political parties and movements are strengthening tribal rivalries among younger generations, often leading to armed clashes.

But Jordanian society has also witnessed this frustration being turned into affirmative action in the form of workers' and teachers' demands for improved working conditions. Jordan's teachers have emerged as an important force within the country, resisting government attempts to marginalise them and pushing their demand for the formation of a syndicate to protect their interests.

As the Tunisian protests continued, demonstrations took place in Algeria against a housing programme that failed to accommodate the thousands of families made homeless by the country's devastating 2003 earthquake.

Bou'aziz's wounds and Naji's death should not go down in history as mere tragic incidents: if the Tunisian protests do indeed signal the return of social movements to the Arab world, their stifled hopes may just be turned into an outcry against injustice.

Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.


Chronicle of nationwide demonstrations over the country's unemployment crisis. Unrest broke out after a young man tried to commit suicide in frustration over rampant unemployment [EPA]

December 17: Mohammed Bouazizi, a 26-year-old unemployed graduate in the central town of Sidi Bouzid, sets himself on fire in an attempt to commit suicide.

Police had confiscated fruit and vegetables he was selling because he lacked a permit. He is still being treated for third-degree burns across his entire body at a hospital near Tunis, the capital.

Bouazizi's act of desperation highlights the public's boiling frustration over living standards and a lack of human rights.

His self-immolation sparked demonstrations in which protesters burned tyres and chanted slogans demanding jobs. Protests soon spread to other parts of the country.

December 20: Mohamed Al Nouri Al Juwayni , the Tunisian development minister, travels to Sidi Bouzid to announce a new $10m employment programme. But protests continue unabated.

December 22: Houcine Falhi, a 22-year-old, commits suicide by electrocuting himself in the midst of another demonstration over unemployment in Sidi Bouzid, after shouting out "No to misery, no to unemployment!"

December 24: Mohamed Ammari, an 18-year-old protester, is killed by police bullets during violent demonstrations in the central town of Menzel Bouzaiene.

Chawki Belhoussine El Hadri , a 44-year-old man, is among those shot by police at the same protest.

Hundreds of protesters rally in front of the Tunisian labour union headquarters over rampant unemployment, clashing with Tunisian security forces in the central towns of al-Ragab and Miknassi. Skirmishes break out when security forces stage overnight crackdown campaigns.

December 25: Rallies spread to Kairouan, Sfax and Ben Guerdane.

An interior ministry spokesperson says police were forced to "shoot in self-defence" after shots in the air failed to disperse scores of protesters who were setting police cars and buildings ablaze.

December 27: Police and demonstrators scuffle as 1,000 Tunisians hold a rally in Tunis, calling for jobs in a show of solidarity with those protesting in poorer regions. Demonstrations also break out in Sousse.

December 28: Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the country's president, warns in a national television broadcast that protests are unacceptable and will have a negative impact on the economy. Ben Ali criticises the "use of violence in the streets by a minority of extremists" and says the law will be applied "in all firmness" to punish protesters.

The Tunisian Federation of Labour Unions holds another rally in Gafsa province, which is squashed by security forces.

At the same time, about 300 lawyers hold a rally near the government's palace in Tunis in solidarity with protesters. Lawyers march in several other cities as well.

The governors of Sidi Bouzid, Jendouba, and Zaghouan provinces are dismissed for unspecified reasons related to the uprising, according to the Pana news agency.

The Tunisian ministers of communication, trade and handicrafts, and religious affairs are all sacked for reasons related to the uprising, Al-Arabiya news channel reports.

Abderrahman Ayedi, a prominent Tunisian lawyer, is allegedly tortured by police after they arrest him for protesting.

December 29: Security forces peacefully break up a demonstration in the northeastern city of Monastir but allegedly use violence in the town of Sbikha. There are also reports of police brutality in the town of Chebba, where one protester is hospitalised.

Nessma TV, a private news channel, becomes the first major Tunisian media outlet to cover the protests, after 12 days of demonstrations.

December 30: El Hadri, shot by police six days prior, dies of his injuries.

France's Socialist Party, the main opposition, condemns the "brutal repression" of the protesters, calling for lawyers and demonstrators to be released.

December 31: Lawyers across Tunisia respond to a call to assemble in protest over the arrested lawyers and in solidarity with the people of Sidi Bouzid.

Authorities react to the protests with force, and lawyers tell Al Jazeera they were "savagely beaten".

January 2: The hacktivist group "Anonymous" announces Operation Tunisia in solidarity with the protests by hacking a number of Tunisian state-run websites, temporarily shutting them down.

Several online activists report on Twitter that their email and Facebook accounts were hacked.

January 3: About 250 demonstrators, mostly students, stage a peaceful marchin the city of Thala. The protest turns violent after police try to stop it by firing tear gas canisters.

At least nine protesters are reportedly injured. In response, protesters set fire to tyres and attack the local offices of the ruling party.

January 4: The Tunisian Bar Association announces a general strike to be staged January 6 in protest over attacks by security forces against its members.

January 5: Mohamed Bouazizi dies of self-inflicted burns. A funeral is later held for him in Sidi Bouzid, his hometown.

January 6: It is reported that 95 per cent of Tunisia's 8,000 lawyers launch a strike, demanding an end to police brutality against peaceful protesters.

January 7:  Authorities arrest a group of bloggers, journalists, activists and a rap singer in a crackdown on dissent. Some of them reportedly go missing.

January 8: At least six protesters are reportedly killed and six others wounded in clashes with police in Tala, a provincial town near the border with Algeria. Another three people were killed in similar clashes in the Kasserine region.

In Tala, witnesses said police fired their weapons after using water cannons to try to disperse a crowd which had set fire to a government building. The crowd has also thrown stones and petrol bombs at police.

January 9: Two protesters named Chihab Alibi and Youssef Fitouri are shot dead by police in Miknassi, according to the SBZ news agency.

January 13: The Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights tallies 66 deaths since the protests began, and sources tell Al Jazeera on Thursday that at least 13 people were killed in the past two days alone. The government's official toll stands at 23 after several weeks of clashes.

Later, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's president, makes a televised address, announcing unprecedented concessions and vowing not to seek re-election in 2014. He also pledges to introduce more freedoms into society, institute widespread reforms and investigate the killings of protesters during demonstrations.

January 14: President imposes a state of emergency and fires the country's government amid violent clashes between protesters and security forces.

Ben Ali also promises fresh legislative elections within six months in an attempt to quell mass dissent.

State media reports that gatherings of more than three people have been banned and "arms will be used if orders of security forces are not heeded".

President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali leaves country and the prime minister takes control of the government.

Mohammed Ghannouchi, the Tunisian prime minister, cites chapter 56 of the Tunisian constitution and becomes the interim president.

French media report that Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, refused to allow Ben Ali to land in his country.

January 15: Saudi Arabia officially announces that it is hosting Ben Ali and his family for an unspecified period of time.

Security vacuum left by the departure of Ben Ali is exploited by looters and violent gangs, witnesses say.

Residents in several parts of Tunis say that groups were prowling through neighbourhoods at night setting fire to buildings and attacking people and property, with no police in sight.


The real terror eating away at the Arab world is socio-economic marginalisation.

From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror is marginalisation [AFP]

Conventional wisdom has it that 'terror' in the Arab world is monopolised by al-Qaeda in its various incarnations. There may be some truth in this.

However, this is a limited viewpoint. Regimes in countries like Tunisia and Algeria have been arming and training security apparatuses to fight Osama bin Laden. But they were caught unawares by the 'bin Laden within': the terror of marginalisation for the millions of educated youth who make up a large portion of the region's population.

The winds of uncertainty blowing in the Arab west - the Maghreb - threaten to blow eastwards towards the Levant as the marginalised issue the fatalistic scream of despair to be given freedom and bread or death.

Whose terror?

The gurus of so-called 'radicalisation' who have turned Islam into a security issue have fixed the debate, making bin Laden a timeless, single and permanent pathology of all things Muslim.

It is no exaggeration to claim that since 9/11 so-called radicalisation has replaced new Orientalism as the prism through which Western security apparatuses view Middle Eastern youth and societies. Guantanamo Bay, profiling, extraordinary renditions, among others, are only the tip of the iceberg.

The policing, equipment, funding, expertise and anti-terror philosophy being fed to the likes of Algeria, Libya and Morocco are geared towards fighting the 'bearded, radical salafis' whose prophet is Osama bin Laden. But, the tangible bin Ladens bracing suicide in its entirety have emerged from the ranks of the educated middle classes whose prophet is Adam Smith.

Al-Qaeda, literally "the base", may today be the swelling armies of marginals in the Middle East, not the 'salafis'.

It is not the Quran or Sayyid Qutb - who is in absentia charged with perpetrating 9/11 despite being dead since 1966 - Western security experts should worry about. They should perhaps purchase Das Kapital and bond with Karl Marx to get a reality check, a rethink, a dose of sobriety in a post-9/11 world afflicted by over-securitisation.

From Tunisia and Algeria in the Maghreb to Jordan and Egypt in the Arab east, the real terror that eats at self-worth, sabotages community and communal rites of passage, including marriage, is the terror of socio-economic marginalisation.

The armies of 'khobzistes' (the unemployed of the Maghreb) - now marching for bread in the streets and slums of Algiers and Kasserine and who tomorrow may be in Amman, Rabat, San'aa, Ramallah, Cairo and southern Beirut - are not fighting the terror of unemployment with ideology. They do not need one. Unemployment is their ideology. The periphery is their geography. And for now, spontaneous peaceful protest and self-harm is their weaponry. They are 'les misérables' of the modern world.

The 'bread compact'

The bread compacts which framed the political order in much of the Arab world came unstuck in the mid- to late-1980s.

In the 1960s, regimes committed to the distribution of bread (subsidised goods) in return for political passivity. In the 1980s, the new political fix shifted to giving the vote instead of bread.

Who can forget the 1988 bread riots that eventually brought the Islamists to the verge of parliamentary control of Algeria in 1991? The riots in Jordan at around the same time inspired state-led political liberalisation in 1989.

For Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan and Egypt, the impoverished Arab states, in need of the liquidity of Euro-American and International Misery Fund aid, infitah (open-door policy) was the only blueprint of forward economic management. Within its bosom are bred greed, land grab, corruption, monopoly and the new entrepreneurial classes who exchange loyalty and patronage with the political masters as well as the banknotes and concessions with which both fund flash lifestyles.

Thus the map of distribution was gerrymandered at the expense of the have-nots who are placated with insufficient micro credits or ill-managed national development funds. The crumbs - whatever subsidies are allowed by the new economic order built on the pillars of privatisation, the absence of social safety nets and economic protectionism - delay disaffection but never eliminate it.

Below the surface the pent-up anger of the marginals simmers.
'Tis the season of 'bread intifadas'

The 'khobzistes' have returned. At home they are marginals; abroad, they are largely persona non grata for being born in the wrong geography, inheriting the perfect genes for 'profiling' and being too culturally challenged for some European assimilationists. Their only added value is as objects of social dumping in capitalism's sweat shops.

Potentially, they are the fodder of chaos in the absence of social justice, culturally sensitive sustainable development and democratic mediating networks and civic channels of socio-political bargaining and

Bread uprisings have a plus and a minus. On the positive side, they act as elections, as plebiscites on performance, as an airing of public anger, they issue verdicts on failed policies and send stress messages to rulers.

The response comes swiftly: when initial oppression becomes too heavy and politically costly, bargains begin. They include promises of jobs and policy, reversals of hikes in food prices and even scapegoats in the form of ministerial dismissals.

This is where Algeria and Tunisia are today.

In Tunisia, in particular, the government has been clumsy, nervous and completely out of line for threatening the use of force and then employing it. Fatalities have been on the rise. The death toll is heavy and may already have produced irreversible tipping-point logic.

Bargains, but no democracy

On the negative side, there is no 'democratic spring' in Algeria. Bread riots come and go. But regimes stay on.

The absence of a critical mass that produces a tipping-point dynamic means that regimes know how to buy time, co-opt and fund themselves out of trouble when pushed. Genuine democratic bargains do not ensue. The states have not invested in social and political capital.

Oppositions and dissidents have not yet learned how to infiltrate governments and build strong political identities and power bases. This is one reason why the protests that produced 'Velvet revolutions' elsewhere seem to be absent in the Arab world.

The momentum created by the bread rioters is never translated into self-sustaining critical mass by opposition forces. Regimes wait until the last minute after use of force fails to kill off the momentum through the offer of concessionary and momentary welfare.

Tunisia will be the first Arab exception to this: Ben Ali is in no position to act Machiavellian and intransigent. He is weak, and the party following and army that has protected him for 24 years may be withdrawing loyalty as the crisis deepens.

The 'fishers of men'

The misery belts tightening around the pockets of affluence and opportunity from Algiers to Amman hint at the microcosm of the unevenness of global distribution.

Just as Sidi Bouzid, El-Kobba, Ma'an or Imbaba function internally in that belt of misery, so do the cities of Arab states globally. They are the periphery, literally the misery belts tightening around rich 'fortress Europe' - a Europe that is increasingly more interested in the technology of security, surveillance systems, 'radicalisation' theories, policing and the mental nets functioning as 'fishers of men' according to one study. Today the ClubMed geography is in rebellion mode.  

Frontex is the EU agency that spearheads the task of constructing fortress Europe. It is at the front, fighting against the boat people that threaten the lifestyles and comfort of the EU. Its planes, frigates and patrols literally fish men from the tiny boats laden with Arab and African human cargo destined for EU shores.

These desperados weather the high seas knowing that their chance of survival is not more than 10 per cent. Many drown. Tunisian Mohamed Bouazizi's act of insanity was not the only suicide. The 'harraqa', as North African boat people are called, seek exodus by stealth, and by death.

Those who do not drown are chased back to their shores of departure. Some are caught and returned to countries of transition such as Libya.

A 2009 EU agreement assigns maritime patrolling and policing to Libya so that boat people do not reach Italian ports, discarding the ethical implications of entrusting refugee protection to countries with dubious human rights records.

From Israel to Spain, fences are erected to keep non-Europeans out. They are allowed to dream of Europe ... but not of setting foot in it.

The time has come for the Arab Gulf labour markets to do more for the Arab marginals.

The 'geography of hunger'

In Frantz Fanon's The Wretched of the Earth one finds resonance with the misery engulfing Tunisia and Algeria today, where the have-nots, or the mahrumin, and the khobzistes strike back at the state and target its symbols. They fight back and thus "struggle ... and with their shrunken bellies [and humiliated egos] outline of the geography of hunger".

In this geography of hunger and marginalisation, the ruling native becomes the new coloniser. By contrast to the have-nots, the ruling natives and the economic 'mafias' are sheltered not only in mansions and villas, but also within 'a hard shell' that immures them from the "poverty that surrounds" them.

In The Wretched of the Earth one reads about the "poor,
Underdeveloped countries, where the rule is that the greatest wealth is surrounded by the greatest poverty".

To map out the "geography of hunger" is not complete without marking out the geography of authoritarianism. In both Algeria and Tunisia, the big interests and profiteers supporting Bouteflika and  Ben Ali seem to fulfill Fanon's prophecy about corruption "sooner or later" making leaders "men of straw in the hands of the army ... immobilising and terrorising". It is the security forces and the army that run the show in both countries.

Fanon, the ideologue of the Algerian revolution, is probably turning in his grave at the thought that a country of "one million martyrs" sacrificed for independence is today battling for new freedoms from housing shortages, rising food prices, autocracy and overall marginalisation.

The figures construct on paper stories of growth and stability that are not matched by the reality of marginalisation.

For how long republics of paper and men of straw can withstand the hell-fire of the Algerian and Tunisian eruptions fuelled by marginalisation remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that the beginnings of a 'Tunisian democratic spring' are in the offing.

Larbi Sadiki is a senior lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratisation: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004), forthcoming Hamas and the Political Process (2011).


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GOVERNANCE IN THE MUSLIM WORLD - by moeenyaseen - 05-06-2007, 11:11 AM

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